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Holtschneider discusses race relations at DePaul with Black Student Union

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Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. attends an on-campus vigil last May for Rekia Boyd, an African-American woman killed by an off-duty police officer.

Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. attends an on-campus vigil last May for Rekia Boyd, an African-American woman killed by an off-duty police officer.

When junior Mario Morrow was on break in December, he received two emails — one to his personal account and one to his email as the president of DePaul’s Black Student Union (BSU).   The emails were from DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., who expressed his desire to meet sometime during Winter Quarter to discuss race at DePaul.

Members of the BSU’s executive board met with Holtschneider and Provost Marten denBoer Jan. 25 in a two-hour meeting that outlined ways to improve the culture on campus for students of color. Topics ranged from micro-aggressions and racial profiling to larger ideas such as a gathering place on campus for students of color.

“It was a good two hours,” Morrow said. “It was very successful. (Holtschneider) was very receptive to what we were saying.”

Morrow and other BSU members noticed  how many notes both Holtschneider and denBoer took throughout. In an email, Holtschneider told The DePaulia that he will be sending his notes from the meeting to the President’s Diversity Council, who will also meet in the future to propose next steps.

“The meeting with BSU was one part of a larger listening process we’ve begun here on campus,” Holtschneider said. “You saw the beginning of the process when I invited the entire university community to use MLK Day to reflect on race at DePaul and send forward any reflections. My office received several helpful emails from this.”

On Jan. 12, Holtschneider sent out an email to students and faculty to reflect on race and identity, encouraging those to email any concerns and ideas to his office. When the meeting began, Morrow said Holtschneider presented those emails and the discussions evolved from there.

One of the central topics of discussion was micro-aggressions in the classroom, meaning small instances where students of color were targeted because of their skin color.

“When a student of color feels like (they’re) being attacked, for instance, or singled out to represent in front of the whole class to give the whole black experience, it puts us in an awkward position,” junior Aja Van Buren, who is on the BSU board and was in the meeting, said. “We are not the voice of the black community. We do not pretend to be. We’re students. Yes, we’re black students and will always be black. That’s not the problem.

“The problem is when you’re addressing us and giving us the title (of being the voice of the black community).”

As for possible solutions, Morrow and the BSU suggested to implement cultural competency training for students and faculty.

“We didn’t come in here with just problems and complaints,” Morrow said. “With everything that we said, we had solutions for everything. To combat (micro-aggressions), we suggested cultural competency training … so that if it does happen, there’s really no excuse.”

Racial profiling was also brought up. Sophomore Kendall Sprinkle detailed an instance when another member brought up an example of where Public Safety unnecessarily asked an Arab student to leave the Demon Den because other white female students felt uncomfortable he was there.

“He was just studying,” Sprinkle said. “They approached him. They made him leave and checked his ID, his DePaul ID, to make sure he was a student. And it was all because students felt uncomfortable.

“Public Safety does have to answer every call. They should,” she said. “But you also have to take it with a grain of salt and you can’t automatically assume the worst. You can’t enter a perceived notion of what the situation is.”

Sprinkle said that Holtschneider said there are cultural competency training programs in place for Public Safety. Holtschneider said in his email that there was a sense among students of color that Public Safety attends their events more frequently than other students’ events.

However, student profiling wasn’t the only concern communicated through the meeting. Topics such as financial aid, the needed addition for faculty and staff of color and the academic success rate of black students were all discussed. Since 2011, the number of undergraduate African-American students has decreased by the beginning of each fall quarter, per DePaul’s Institutional Research and Market Analytics.

In 2015, DePaul had 1,297 undergraduate African-American students, the lowest since 2008. Total enrollment throughout DePaul is down about six percent since 2011.

Of DePaul’s 915 full-time faculty, 591 faculty members are white. Sixty-five faculty members are black, a slight decrease from 2013 and 2014, where DePaul had 67 black full-time faculty in each year. 

Van Buren, a psychology major, said the College of Science and Health lacked faculty of color, sometimes making it harder to approach her professors.

“I just changed my major from health sciences. I was taking biology, chemistry classes and there was no professor of color,” Van Buren said. “(They) were predominantely white, which is not a problem. But when you have problems in classes when you know you need an extension, or it may just be harder to approach a professor because he doesn’t feel you’re worth the time of day, that’s a problem.”

A long-term fixture for black students to feel more comfortable, Morrow said, was for DePaul to build a “black center,” or a place black students can go for academic and social needs. Morrow pointed out that many other universities, including Northwestern, have one.

“(Northwestern) uses it for everything. They have meetings and events, board rooms and offices,” Morrow said. “We used this to combat everything (we suggested).”

But for now, Morrow said the conversations that are being held on campus are productive. He said that Holtschneider will meet with the group again for a follow-up.

Sprinkle and Van Buren said it was also encouraging that Holtschneider heard the information first-hand.

“You can hear all day long,” Van Buren said. “We’ve been in every paper from here to Mizzou to Michigan since Mizzou happened. You can only hear bits and pieces of what we actually think, what we actually want to say.

“Yes, we have our public statement about the Mizzou incident, but then having a conversation with us, you’ll be able to understand that we don’t want a Mizzou here. We want to change these problems before it gets there.” 

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Holtschneider discusses race relations at DePaul with Black Student Union